Heard Museum offers opportunity to discover artifacts’ worth

The Heard Museum hosted an American Indian appraisal day Saturday that welcomed guests to discover if their jewelry, baskets, rugs, dolls and other items could actually be worth thousands. (Cydney McFarland/DD)

Uncovering the value of American Indian artifacts is a game of hit or miss. A family heirloom could turn out to be a worthless replica or a garage sale find may be worth its weight in gold.

To discover the retail value of their antiques, collectors and spring-cleaners alike converged on the Heard Museum to take part in Saturday’s Heard Museum Council American Indian Arts & Artifacts Appraisal Day.

Alston Neal, a volunteer appraiser at the event, said people will often bring in American Indian artifacts for appraisal and find out they could sell them for a small fortune.

“That’s the fun thing about these appraisals,” Neal said. “People just don’t know. They think they have these old baskets that are worth nothing … then they bring them here and find out they are worth thousands.”

Bob Fortuny, 64, paid $800 for a gold cross necklace with turquoise accents about 20 years ago. After the appraisal, he found out the necklace could sell for up to $15,000.

But Fortuny said he does not plan on giving up the item just yet.

“The necklace is a sentimental piece that I will keep for a long time,” Fortuny said. “I just bought it to wear because I wanted a cross, and I got back to church in a time where I needed God in my life. Plus, it’s just beautiful.”

Not everyone received good news from the appraisers. Some hopeful art collectors found out their items will most likely not sell for as much as they expected.

Robin Burgess, 52, brought in three Kachina dolls and a small Navajo Yei rug she received as a gift from her uncle nearly 30 years ago. Because American Indians gave her uncle the items in exchange for his services as an attorney, Burgess said she hoped they were worth quite a bit.

To her dismay, the items were known as “folk art,” meaning they were not authentic artifacts.

“If they would have been made by the Hopis, they would be worth hundreds, so I’m a little disappointed,” Burgess said. “But they are still really pretty, and I will probably still sell them because I need to downsize.”

Debra Krol, Marketing Communications Manager at the Heard Museum, said the appraisal day not only provides services to the art collectors who bring in artifacts, but it also helps the museum raise money. All funds paid for the evaluation of artifacts go to the museum, and every appraiser volunteered their time and effort.

The event also allows people to learn a lot about cultures “lost in history,” Neal said.

“Some items come from groups that no longer exist,” Neal said. “… they are a part of the history of America—pieces of our history and culture.”

Contact the reporter at katie.kunkel@asu.edu


  1. I am very poor and simply not now or ever will have the fee it will take to appraise or even find out if my tomahawk pipe (just the ax head) is real or fake. I know that all of the real ones I have seen go for alot of money. Even though I studied a web site on how to tell the fakes…I am just not sure

  2. I have native american artifacts & photos of them & have been trying to figure what they are worth and find them a good home. can the Heard Museum help me ??